One of the most important issues at the heart of the Gospel message is the identity of Jesus: “Who is this?” “What kind of man is this…?”
To understand His identity, we need to understand His names and titles. We have seen that the name given to Him at His birth was Jesus, “for He will save His people from their sins,” (Matthew 1:1). We have seen also that He was recognised as the Christ, that is, the long-promised Messiah, who would be anointed to reign as king over the kingdom of God.
The Gospel writers use the personal name of Jesus when they speak about Him, but whenever people address Him in the Gospels, they never use His personal name. Some will refer to Him as “Rabbi” but most often they address Him as “Lord.” Initially, this was simply a term of respect, but as the disciples come to a fuller understanding of His identity, that word took on a deeper meaning, and reaches a climax after His resurrection. Even though Jesus had repeatedly told the disciples of His impending death, they didn’t grasp it. And when Jesus died, their hopes and dreams died with Him, so much so that even when they received reports that Jesus had risen from the dead, they couldn’t accept it because, like us, they knew that death was permanent. But on resurrection Sunday, when the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst! One of the disciples, Thomas, was not there and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he said,
“Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”John 20:25
Eight days later, Jesus once more appeared to the disciples and this time Thomas was with them. When Jesus invited Thomas to reach out his finger and touch His hands, and to put his hand into His side, Thomas was immediately convinced and cried out:
“My Lord and my God!”John 20:28
This is the climax of John’s Gospel and is the declaration that John wants us to make as we consider all that he has written about Jesus. For Thomas, this is not simply a term of respect now, but an expression of his faith in the deity of the Lord Jesus, that is, that Jesus is truly God come in human form. Earlier, John had recorded these words from Jesus:
“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”John 10:17-18
It was by His resurrection that Jesus not only proved that He had the power to lay down His life and take it again, but it proved that He was the powerful Son of God (Romans 1:1-4).
In the Book of Acts, we discover the biblical record of the formation of the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus had told His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until He sent the promise of the Father and they would be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). They only had to wait about ten days until the Holy Spirit dramatically and unmistakably arrived and they were baptised in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). Paul would later explain that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the means by which the Lord Jesus makes those who believe in Him part of His body, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:13). But as Peter explained, the miraculous ability of these followers of Christ to speak in tongues (that is, to praise God in languages they had never learned) was evidence that God had exalted Jesus to sit on His throne with Him:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”Acts 2:36
Later we hear Peter preaching to Cornelius “words by which you and all your household will be saved,” (Acts 11:14). Listen to what he said:
The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— 37 that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.Acts 10:36-38
Clearly Peter now understands that “Lord” is more than a title of respect. He insists that Jesus is Lord of all! In fact, “Jesus is Lord” becomes the earliest confession of faith in Jesus, as we will see.
It is interesting to read through the Book of Acts and notice all the references to “Lord”. There are clearly instances where it is referring to God the Father and there are clearly instances when it refers to “the Lord Jesus.” But what is fascinating is that there are many instances where it is unclear if it is speaking of God the Father or speaking of the Lord Jesus. While the Bible maintains clear distinctions between the Father and the Son, in verses that simply say, “pray to the Lord” or “preaching the word of the Lord,” (e.g., Acts 8:24-25), we must stop and ask ourselves, “Is this verse speaking of the Father or the Son?” They are so closely connected that it could be speaking of either! That is why Jesus could say, “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30).
In Romans chapter 10, Paul gives a brief statement of what someone must believe to be saved:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”Romans 10:9-13, ESV
This is a remarkable passage because not only does it say that we must acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and that He is Lord of all, but Paul quotes an Old Testament passage where calling on the name of the Lord meant calling on God, using His unique name, “Yahweh,” or “Jehovah,” which is translated in our English Bibles as “Lord.” That Paul could apply that passage to Jesus is a clear indication that he understood Jesus to be God, and encourages us to call upon Him for salvation.
So what does the New Testament mean when it says that Jesus is Lord? First, that He is God. Not God the Father, but God the Son, co-equal and co-eternal (John 1:1-3) with the Father. And second, because He is God, it carries the idea of authority. As “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36), He deserves our unquestioning allegiance and obedience. Listen to what Jesus Himself said:
But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? 47 Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. 49 But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.”Luke 6:46-49